Covenant Through New Eyes: Part 3 – Man's Work
Last week in Part 2 of this Covenant Through New Eyes series we examined the five-fold pattern of God’s work as laid out in James Jordan’s book Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World. By looking at the creation account in the first chapters of Genesis Jordan perceives that God’s work takes on a five-fold pattern: first, God takes hold of the creation; second, God restructures the creation; third, God distributes the creation; fourth, God evaluates His work; and fifth, God enjoys His work.
Our goal in this series is to follow Jordan’s outline of seven covenantal transitions from the Bible’s history that he lays out in Through New Eyes. The reason we are prefacing our study of the actual covenants is because we will come to find that each covenantal transition is like a new creation. God takes hold of the old creation, restructures it, distributes it, evaluates it, and enjoys it. Upon taking hold of and restructuring the old creation in each covenantal transition, God is, in essence, creating a new world. Without a proper understanding of the five-fold pattern of God’s work we will misunderstand the covenantal history laid out in the pages of scripture.
If that were all we needed then we would be ready to move on to a study of the covenants. But as I mentioned last week, we must also learn about man’s pattern of work. The reason we must learn about man’s work is because man plays a central role in God’s covenantal actions in the world. One of the main ways that God restructures His creation is by changing the way man relates to Him. Therefore, understanding that man’s work follows God’s five-fold pattern (with a key addition) is crucial to understanding covenantal history.
I concluded Part 2 of this series by noting that the additional part in man’s pattern of work is “the giving of thanks.” Jordan explains that, like God, man works by taking hold of creation, restructuring it, distributing it, evaluating it, and enjoying it. But Jordan also explains that before man begins his work of restructuring man is called to give thanks for the creation God has given to him. For Jordan this is the crucial distinction between the Christian and the apostate. All men will follow God’s five-fold pattern but it is the man of faith who gives thanks to God before starting his work:
Because all men, Christian and apostate, thus constantly imitate God in their work, it cannot be in the area of works that the final distinction between the righteous and the wicked is found. Rather, it is the attitude of faith that accompanies these works that makes the difference…That additional step [of] giving of thanks, [is] a conscious act of self-submission to God, affirming that He is the One who set up the conditions for human labor, and affirming that He does all things well. (121)
What we come to learn as Jordan unfurls the implications of man’s work is this. Man has been called to take hold of God’s creation, thank God for it, and then make it more glorious thus bringing more glory to God. Jordan admits that in one since this task is impossible; man can make God more glorious in the same way that a man can put more water in a full bucket. Be that as it may, man is called to embrace the paradox and obey God’s directives.
What this means is that man is supposed to take part, with God, in the progress of history from glory to glory. Man is called to imitate God’s actions of making the creation more glorious by doing so himself. This explains something very important. When we understand that the creation is meant to move from glory to glory we are able to comprehend that prior forms of glory are not bad just because they have been replaced with something more glorious. The tabernacle is replaced by the temple not because the tabernacle was flawed but because the temple was more glorious. It is important to note how this process of covenantal change takes place, let’s look to Jordan:
This process takes place in time. Thus, what is “good” at an early stage of history may not still be “good” later. A drawing by a child may be evaluated “very good” by adults, but the same crudities from the hand of an adult would not be given the same evaluation. It is important to affirm the eschatological character of the good, because it helps to explain the fact that the products of human work do not endure…It also explains why each stage of the Old Covenant was good and wonderful at the time, but yet needed to be superseded later on. (123)
As one reads through that quotation it begins to become clearer and clearer why we must understand both God and man’s pattern of work. They are interrelated because God has made them so. As God moves history forward through His covenantal transitions he does so in and through man and man’s work.
This pattern of maturation is all around us if we would but see it. One simple example would be in the work a parent undertakes to raise a child. Throughout different stages of their child’s life a parent will relate to their child differently. The change in relation does not negate earlier forms of relation but is simply part in parcel with the task at hand. Further, the way the parent is acting to grow and raise their child, in many ways, is in and through the actions of the child itself. A parent guides a child to take its first steps or ride a bike but the child is the one taking the actions. Further, as a child grows and matures the child can begin to honor and bring glory to the parent. Just as a child’s first steps bring glory to a proud mother, how much more glory is bestowed on the parents when a child is able to write a poem for their birthday.
We see that man is meant to bring glory to God in much the same way a child brings glory to a parent. Man is to receive with thanks for that which God has bestowed, restructure it in such a way to make it more glorious and return it to God for mutual enjoyment. Here’s how Jordan puts it:
Man is God’s agent for the glorification of the world. The world was created glorious, but is to become more glorious progressively under the hand of man. “Glory” is a difficult concept to describe, but clearly it has to do with the revelation of God. We know that god is fully revealed, and thus fully glorified, in all that He has made. Yet, the work of man is to reveal God even more, and bring Him even more glory….The progressive revelation and glorification of God in history does not take place by a process of unveiling what is hidden, but by transforming what is already revealed. (123-124)
As we move forward in this series to look at the scripture’s covenantal history we will find that it is a history of glory transformation. With each turn God is restructuring things in such a way that man is presented with new ways of glorifying him. Further, we will come to find that the final movement in God’s covenantal drama is more glorious than all that precede it because in the final movement God’s work and man’s work are united in Christ.
Food for thought.